Welcome back to the second half of the Twelve Best WanderShopping Experiences of 2012. If you missed the first six, check out yesterday’s post. In it we explored shopping fun in India, Cambodia, Vietnam, Turkey and how to get great finds from around the world right from your couch with One Kings Lane. Now it’s time for the second half of 2012.
I decided to celebrate my birthday in August by traveling to Oaxaca, Mexico. I chose to stay right in the heart of the old city at an ex-convent, now the Camino Real hotel. It was easy to get swept up in the centuries old ambiance. My invaluable local guide, Raul Felix, escorted me to many wonderful artisans. In December, WanderShopper featured traditionally painted sculptures in the Oaxacan Oasis of Zapotec Art post. Raul also took me to a co-operative of weavers run by his cousin, Rafaela, and her husband, Victor. I will feature their work in more detail in the future but the stop in their studio and gallery makes my list of best shopping experiences. Victor invited me in and put on a private demonstration of how yarn is created from wool and even allowed me to try my hand at the spinning wheel. He then showed me many of the ways colors are created naturally from different things found in nature. They use these dyes to create all the colors they weave with. Next there was a demonstration of how the traditional Zapotec designs are woven into their creations. Then it was shopping time. I selected a number of colorful woven purses for gifts. The item I was most excited about was a rug. All of the colors in it were created from combining cochineal with other additives to get variations in color. I had studied cochineal as a docent at my local art museum and was thrilled to see it being used in an item I could bring home with me.
In September I made my first visit to Oregon for a WanderTours White Water Rafting Trip on the Rogue River. I added days at the beginning and end to explore Portland. While walking around the Pearl District, I discovered the wonderland that is Cargo. An enormous warehouse of a store, Cargo is stocked with everything you could imagine from Asia and beyond. On that first day I purchased just a couple things as I was overwhelmed by everything they offered. Still alive after 4 days on the Rogue, I returned to Cargo to do some real damage. I bought a couple pieces of gourgeous ikat fabrics from Uzbekistan (my newest obsession,) Hand of Fatima earrings from Afghanistan, and several vintage, plaster Hindu God statues from India. I also found books, perfumed incense ceramic disks and some gifts for my pet sitters. I don’t say this lightly. Cargo is so cool, that they make me want to move to Portland just so I can shop there. Of course you can find many great items online but you really need to visit their store to get the total experience. Again, a post on their offerings will be coming later this year.
October found me returning to Asia and setting up a base at my hotel in Thailand. I would be spending most of my time in Myanmar and Laos but chose Bangkok as my hub and for luggage storage at my hotel. I learned valuable lessons from all the added expenses of baggage fees on my Asian swing in March. I left purchases in Bangkok so I could travel light through Asia. Although I had been to Bangkok several times before, events had conspired to keep me away from the shopping mecca that is Chatuchuk Weekend Market. Also known as Jatujak or J.J. Market, it is the world’s largest market covering 35 acres! If you can’t find it at Chatuchak, you probably don’t need it! I went early on a Sunday to avoid most of the crowds and the extreme heat of the day. I took hundreds of photos which I will share in the months ahead. I made many great finds you would expect to in Thailand. What I was thrilled to discover was the number of booths featuring items from other countries. I spent an hour speaking with an Afghani man who had moved to Thailand decades ago with his family for safety. He had gorgeous jewelry and beaded clothing, headgear and decorative items from many tribes in northern Afghanistan. I learned a lot from his enthusiastic sharing of his traditions. I also was drawn to several booths featuring vintage and antique items from Tibet. My next visit to Bangkok will definitely include a trip back to the market and a whole bag dedicated to bringing back finds from there!
Towards the end of October, I entered Myanmar formerly known as Burma. I had read so much about this country and was so excited to be able to visit as it opened up to the world. Everyone there was abuzz with anticipation about the upcoming visit of President Obama just a few days after I left. There are so many wonderful craft traditions in Myanmar that I look forward to sharing with you. Outside of Mandalay, I had the chance to visit a shop that specialized in vintage and antique items from around the country and had many creations from the different tribal groups. I have started to amass a large collection of puppets from many of my destinations so when I spotted a large Ganesh marionette in the stairway to the second floor, I immediately knew I wanted him. The size of a small child, I knew he would be an challenge, in both space and weight, in my bag. But I decided to follow WanderShopper Rule number 1 and buy him anyways. The main obstacle turned out to be the price as the vendors, learning we were American, really overpriced everything. He asked $200 initially and refused to budge. I knew that was outrageous, as were all the other prices I was quoted, so I left and went to sit on the bus, dejected. Just before we were to leave, the salesman reappeared, after his father talked some sense into him, and he was willing to sell Ganesh to me now for the $80 I had stuck to. It was a risky move but it paid off. Usually vendors would rather make the sale then hold out for a high number that never materializes. Ganesh became mine and has sat next to my Christmas tree this season as my featured guest.
After Myanmar, I headed to Luang Prabang, Laos to stay at the Living Crafts Center connected with Ock Pop Tok. Meaning “East meets West,” the Ock Pop Tok boutiques were featured in an earlier post, Weaving Wonderland. The villa on their property has four rooms available, each decorated with weavings from different Hill Tribes. I stayed in the Hmong room. While there, I took classes on creating natural dyes, weaving and batik. It was a lot of fun to actually try some of the techniques used to create items I have been collecting for years. I was also an enthusiastic shopper at their three boutiques. One creation I will always treasure is a silk organza wall hanging in shades of blue. It also has silk cocoons woven into it as well as sticks of bamboo. And I’m always a fan of tassels.
Sometimes the best things you buy aren’t items at all, they’re experiences. That’s the case for my final entry for 2012. The Living Crafts Center in Luang Prabang is able to arrange a Baci Ceremony and it sounded like an incredible opportunity to experience a local tradition. Baci is an animist practice used to mark important events and occasions. One may be held to celebrate the birth of a child, a marriage, becoming a monk as well as to help heal someone after a serious illness. It is also popular at New Years. Additionally a Baci Ceremony may be held for someone heading out on a journey or for a homecoming. 2012 had been a very challenging year personally for me and I felt that a Baci would be the perfect way to symbolize the closing of one chapter and the beginning of a new one. At the appointed hour, the Master, three elder village women and a band arrived and set up everything for the ceremony. Additionally, a Professor of Sociology from the local university came to act as an interpreter and explain the practice to me. It was a beautiful ceremony that I will share in detail with you in a future post. During the Baci, each person offers blessings to me for my protection, good health, wealth and happiness. It was extremely moving and I absolutely felt like I had been strengthened through the whole process. And I immediately received a benefit from it when I arrived back in Bangkok, my hotel moved me to the top floor penthouse suite for my final night!
Thank you to all you WanderShoppers for joining me in my initial months as a blogger. I am just bursting with ideas, experiences and photos to share with you. And the journey continues. In just a couple days I leave for Costa Rica and some new WanderShopping opportunities. See you again soon!